Men’s Basketball: Despite furious second-half rally, Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament run fizzles out in 68-63 loss to UCLA


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior guard Ty Berry and junior center Matthew Nicholson help senior guard Boo Buie up after a play. Northwestern’s historic 2022-23 season came to an end after a 68-63 loss to UCLA in the round of 32 on Saturday.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — At 8:35 p.m. PT on Saturday, coach Chris Collins, with his backcourt tandem trailing behind, took a seat on the makeshift podium in the media workroom of the Golden 1 Center.

The mood was melancholy, the kind of aura which hovers after a team, which has accomplished so much, sees its season end despite the most valiant of efforts. As the 48-year-old offered his opening statement, his voice choked up with every word. He was fighting off the waves of emotion that inevitably linger following the conclusion of a spectacular journey.

Sandwiched between the two players central to his post-2017 rebuild, senior guard Boo Buie and redshirt senior guard Chase Audige, Collins reinforced his love for this Northwestern team. 

“I wanted to keep fighting with these guys,” Collins said. “What this group has done for me this year … how they’ve invigorated me as a coach was really special. I’ll always be indebted to those guys for that.”

The story of this Wildcats squad is one for the record books. The list of historical firsts for this team is seemingly never-ending, as Collins has quipped on countless occasions. Still, NU’s journey ends in the round of 32 — just as it did six seasons prior — unable to secure a victory despite a furious second-half surge. 

Audige said he knew Saturday’s clash with UCLA was “going to be a war,” a battle in which every possession could tilt the game’s favor one way or another. However, in the early minutes, it was all Bruins. 

UCLA’s gameplan was simple: Stifle Buie and Audige and make someone else beat them. 

After 20 minutes of basketball, the Bruins had done exactly that. Buie and Audige combined for four turnovers and just five points — Audige was scoreless in the first half — on 1-of-8 shooting from the field.

In many respects, NU was fortunate UCLA’s lead wasn’t greater, considering the Cats shot 35.7% from the field and 22.2% beyond the arc in the first half. If not for the efforts of junior center Matthew Nicholson, who notched 10 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting performance, the halftime deficit of 10 points would’ve seemed all the more insurmountable. 

“I’m just so proud of Matt,” Collins said. “He really cares; he works really hard. Then, it just so happened tonight, because of the way (UCLA was) double-teaming (Buie and Audige) with the big guy, we were able to find him a lot on rolls.”

Still, despite a double-digit lead and the momentum in his team’s favor, Bruins coach Mick Cronin said postgame he had watched too much film to know the game’s outcome wasn’t decided by halftime. He knew the Cats wouldn’t go away — and he was right.

Just 20 seconds after UCLA guard David Singleton canned a jumper on the first possession of the second half, Audige responded with a pull-up triple, his first points of the game. When a layup from guard Amari Bailey stretched the Bruins’ lead back to 13, NU — propelled by Audige, Buie and Nicholson — countered with a 17-4 run to knot the score at 45-45 with 11:26 to play.

“Chase (Audige) hit some big shots, Boo (Buie) got to the rim, we found some guys on kicks,” Collins said of the offensive surge. “It just kind of opened up for us. Once we saw the ball go in a little bit, the crowd’s getting into it, all of a sudden the game’s tied. … We got in the huddle and we’re like, ‘Alright, this is what we wanted. It’s an eight-minute fight.’”

Out of the under-12 media timeout, UCLA rattled off six quick points before Audige and Buie nailed a pair of jumpers to bring the game within one possession. 

In the closing stretch of the game, though, the Bruins’ first-half defensive intensity returned. The Cats were seemingly unable to buy a bucket, missing 12 of its last 14 shot attempts in the final eight minutes of the game. 

UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., who posted a game-high 24 points, said during NU’s run, his team was “switching flat.” After talking to Bailey and Cronin in a huddle, Jaquez said the Bruins started to ramp up the pressure again, “switching up into them” to make the Cats’ guards uncomfortable.

The adjustment made the difference late in the game, although Collins noted: “Sometimes a guy makes a shot and you miss a shot, and that’s the difference in an NCAA Tournament game.” 

While NU’s early second-half surge ultimately proved futile in its 68-63 loss, the comeback aptly illustrated the unwavering resilience of this bunch. 

The core of this Cats’ team, notably Audige, Buie and senior forward Robbie Beran, has been through college basketball’s ringer. Those three ended up on the wrong side of games more often than not. But this season, amid so much offseason turbulence and noise, they accomplished the unthinkable. 

NU knocked off the No. 1 team in the country for the first time in program history. The Cats, after totaling 16 conference wins from 2019-22, secured 12 victories in Big Ten play, finishing in a tie for second place. 

It’s been a remarkable season for a team pegged to finish 13th in the conference. The journey may have come to an end, but the memories — well, those will last for a lifetime. 

“We had a lot of fun along the way,” Collins said. “We worked really hard, but it was fun. We were really connected. These guys were incredible. (I) just couldn’t be prouder of this group.”

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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